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August 31, 2011Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe knows that if his offense is to improve from last year's dreadful unit that ranked 11th overall in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it all begins up front with the offensive line.
The very best teams Grobe's coached in Winston-Salem all featured veteran offensive lines that pushed people around, and they've got to get back to that to have success this fall.
"I think most coaches that have been around for a while know that if you're going to be good offensively, you better start up front," Grobe said. "So I think that's a very positive thing for us going into (Thursday night) knowing that we've got four seniors up front. We're older. We're more seasoned. We're learned a lot since last year."
The Demon Deacons will have fifth-year seniors at both offensive tackle positions (Dennis Godfrey at left tackle and Doug Weaver at right tackle), another fifth-year senior at left guard (Michael Hoag) and a 'true' senior, Joe Looney, at the right guard spot.
The only non-senior in the starting lineup is center Garrick Williams, a junior who is stepping into the starting lineup for the first time.
"One of the problems honesty that Tanner Price had last year as a true freshman was his supporting cast didn't help him, you know," said Grobe.
"Our offensive line at times did not play real well either blocking for the run or protecting him in the pocket. And our receivers didn't catch the football very well. So I think the supporting cast is key."
"These four seniors that we've got that are starting are very capable of doing a great job for Tanner, taking care of him," Grobe continued.
The Demon Deacons finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference last fall with 26 sacks allowed, although it seemed like a lot more for Wake fans frustrated with an offense that was among the league's worst in most offensive statistical categories in 2010.
But with Godfrey and Weaver, two seasoned players, on the bookends at the two tackles, Grobe has some confidence heading to Syracuse that Price will be protected.
"It's really key for us (to have veteran offensive tackles)," said Grobe during Wednesday's ACC teleconference.
"One of the things for us that's going to be really important is Dennis Godfrey on the left side has had a history of being injured and missing some game time. We need Dennis to stay healthy the whole year."
"The right side with Doug Weaver, Doug has been a really dependable, durable guy, so we feel really good about Doug," Grobe added.
The longtime Wake Forest coach also seems confident in the two top backup players behind Godfrey and Weaver at the offensive tackle posts.
"I think Steven Chase, the backup on the left side, has had a good August. We hope that he's going to be able to spell Dennis a little bit," he said.
"And I think that Daniel Blitch, the big right tackle that's a redshirt freshman, might even be able to give Doug Weaver a bit of a break over there."
While Chase and Blitch both figure to get reps against the Orange, it's ultimately going to be up to Godfrey and Weaver for the most part to keep Syracuse defensive ends Mikhail Marinovich, Chandler Jones, Brandon Sharpe, and Torrey Ball off Price.
"Those two (Godfrey and Weaver) are guys that are fifth-year guys that really need to play well. If Weaver and Godfrey play well at those two offensive tackle positions, it's going to make us a lot better," Grobe said.
Inside at guard the Deacons have to feel good about Looney, a player who has been on the field since his true freshman year.
With Looney and Weaver, the Demon Deacons have arguably one of the better right-side tandems in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
Coach Grobe is looking to see more consistency on the left side with Hoag, who comes into this season with a little more fire in his belly than in year's past.
"I think Mike is a kid that can win for us. But I thought he was in a comfort zone for a couple of years," said Grobe. "I thought he was just happy to be a part of it all."
"He's showed a little more toughness and resolve (this year), and that's something we've got to have out of older players."
"Mike has always been just kind of a 'happy go lucky' guy, and that's not good in the offensive line. You want the 'happy go lucky' guy to be the manager or something, not an offensive lineman," Grobe added about Hoag.
"He's a kid that needs to play. He's got to play his best football right now for us to be good."
This summer, the Deacons showed much more promise up front competing against their defensive teammates.
After getting dominated for much of last season in practice, Hoag and the rest of this year's crop of Wake offensive linemen stepped up and competed at a much higher level this August in training camp.
Grobe and the rest of the Demon Deacons can only hope that will make for a more cohesive and effective unit this season---and especially in the Carrier Dome Thursday night.
"I think our defense at times kind of controlled the offense (last year), and the offense pushed back, and we haven't done that some in the past, especially last year. And Mike was one of those guys that got it stirred up a little bit," he said.